What’s the Password?

Hey Dad,
It’s been awhile since I’ve written here, but I think about you constantly. I miss you even more than I ever thought would be possible. Today, I thought about you and how when we called on the phone, you’d frequently ask us “what’s the password?” before you would allow us to have a conversation with you. It was a Marx Brothers reference; you’d wait until we responded with “swordfish.” I remember being embarrassed by this when I’d call home from a friend’s house, but you insisted. Just one of your many quirks.

A Birthday and a Synopsis

Hey Dad,
Today should be your 58th birthday. But you stopped at 57. Realistically, I knew you wouldn’t live forever, but I never imagined that you wouldn’t live at least long enough to be old and feeble minded and enjoying the home we picked out for you. You know, we promised you we’d find you one where you could drink beer and it would have a pool table. But you gave out long before that point. My heart is still so broken in a way I never would have thought possible and there are moments when your absence in my life seems like it’s far more consuming of my attention than your presence was. I wish you were still here, so I could call you today and tell you stories about how overgrown with weeds my yards are, about the baseball game I went to last week and about how I correctly diagnosed the leak in our toilet. These were the kinds of things we shared and I know you would have been pleased to hear them. You probably would have complained about getting old, you’ve been doing it for the past couple of years. You would have regaled me with stories of the school that you were working at, complained about whatever motley crew of animals you were keeping and probably complained about the heat. I certainly inherited my intolerance of hot weather from you and not from Mom, who I swear must be part lizard.

It’s taken me six and a half months to think about sitting down to write you a eulogy Daddy. I think that there’s a big part of me that hasn’t and doesn’t want to accept your death. It was so sudden, so out of nowhere and about 12 hours before I planned to call you and see how you were. I miss your voice, the way the answering machine always picked up before you could make it to the phone, but most of all I miss all the stories I will never hear about you. All the things you will never be. But here, right now, I’m going to try and write a short synopsis of what I knew you to be.


It’s virtually impossible to sum up in a few short paragraphs all that my father was. He was 5’10”, bald and bearded and heavily muscled in a way that only comes from manual labor. He had an insatiable desire for knowledge, a ridiculous love of practical jokes and an amazingly tender heart towards children and animals. He loved beer, Hawaiian shirts, jigsaw puzzles and mystery novels. He lived very simply and was generous almost to a fault. He hated to throw anything away if there was any chance that it might be used again in any way. He was also one of the most important people in my life; one of the guideposts by which I defined myself. Without him, I am missing a rudder.

My father had large, square hands. They were always calloused from working in the fields because he frequently eschewed the many pairs of gloves he owned. A normal day in my childhood could find him operating a sawmill, chopping wood, making hay, milking goats or doing any one of a million other farm chores. Most people would have called him a man’s man, tough on the outside. What most people didn’t know was the inside his heart melted for his three little girls and it was not uncommon to see him with his beard or what little hair he had held back by plastic barrettes, braided into many tiny braids or otherwise decked out sparkly little girl accessories. He loved to tease and torment us; he would shake his wet beard over us after a shower or throw his stinky socks at us at the end of the day. One day when a friend was over, he was expounding on the joys of being an adult as he passed around that evening’s dessert–swiss cake rolls or some other Little Debbie snack cakes–and without warning he reached out and BANG! slammed his hand down on the friend’s cake, telling her he could do that because he was an adult, and that was what made being an adult great. He did also swap her mangled cake for his.

My father sang to us a great deal. While he did not sing outside the house and I can’t recall the way it sounded when he sang now, I know he sang a lot. The song I most remember him singing to me was You Are My Sunshine, which has always made me cry. He would wake us up on summer mornings by bellowing “Rise and shine and give God your glory glory”, his rich, round voice refusing to allow us to remain sleeping. He sang songs while we worked, teaching us to use them to work on the same rhythm. Frequently sung songs also included Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side and Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You. He was a terrible dancer, but he did a great deal of that around the house too, doing what we all affectionately called “the white man shuffle.” He loved the song The Safety Dance, and when we played it at my wedding, he made a point of telling me–as he grinned–that he was so glad I’d played “his song.” He loved The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Lou Reed, The Byrds, Flat and Scruggs, Arlo Guthrie and loved rock, old country, bluegrass and jazz in general.

My father was not always the most patient of men. Sometimes we argued and sometimes we yelled. I did inherit my stubborn nature from him, so it’s only natural that we butted heads every now and then. The greatest gift he ever gave me was that I have always known that my father was behind me, proud of me and ready to catch me if I fell. Even as he kept his worries and sadnesses from us, he was free with his love, hugging and telling us he loved us as frequently as he could. A phone call to him could stretch for hours. The last thing he said to me was “I love you” and as I struggle through my life without him, I can think of no better gift he could have given me.

Happy birthday Daddy. I love you more than words can say, and for you, one last time, The Safety Dance.

also posted on catharticink.com

City, Surfing, Family

Hey Dad,
Right after my sixteenth birthday, you rented a car and packed us three girls up for a trip to Long Island, where you grew up, where you met and married Mom, and where all three of us were born. It was the first time you had taken us back since we moved to Maine in 1983 and you were super excited to show us where you grew up, and for us to visit with your family and friends

My memories of that whole trip are, on the whole, good. I remember how proud you were of us as your friends saw us for the first time in years, some of them the first time in decades. I remember how excited you were to find us good egg creams, since you lamented the fact that you didn’t have a seltzer tap at home to make them the way they’re made at a soda fountain. You took us into the City and we walked everywhere. You took us all over, including to Central Park West to Strawberry Fields (that was in the height of my obsession with The Beatles) and several Late Night with David Letterman hot spots (you were quite the Letterman fan). On the train back to your brother’s house, you scared the crap out of a young woman by sharply telling her to stop popping her knuckles. That was a huge pet peeve of yours and after you apologized for scaring her, you explained that the sound of popping joints just made you cringe.

You also took us to the beach that week. I think it was the first time I had ever spent any time on a sandy beach and you decided to teach us how to body surf. While patience wasn’t always your strong suit I remember how patient you were with us that day; you helped us pick out good waves and watched us to make sure that we didn’t get hurt. I remember I got super sunburned (one of the few truly bad sunburns I’ve ever had) and how you teased me about it. We didn’t take many vacations, this being one of two memorable ones I can remember taking with you. I wish there had been time for more.


My birthday this year is bittersweet. I’m excited to be turning 30, excited for the start of a new decade of my life and excited because I just plain love birthdays. But it’s a hard day in that it’s the first birthday my dad isn’t here to sing happy birthday to me. When I turned 27, I thought he forgot my birthday. He came home to messages on his answering machine from both of my sisters reminding him to call me so on my 28th and 29th birthdays I got emails from Dad that said the following:

28: (subject line “burpday”)
Happy Birthday . This is to let you know I haven’t forgotten
and to keep my answering machine from overloading with messages from
your siblings to remind me. I will give you a call when I get home
from work around 10 . Love Dad

29: (subject line “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”)
I will give you a call after I get home from work tonight.Have a
Happy Birthday .  Love Dad

My dad had a way of calling on people’s birthdays that involved singing loudly before actually saying hello to the birthday person. I would answer my phone and he would belt out the birthday song and follow it with “HEY. HAPPY BIRTHDAY. This is Dad.” As though I didn’t know.

While I’m missing my (crazy) father, I’m also thrilled that my mother is here for a week-long visit. We’re partying it up with friends today, I’m entering my 3rd decade on this planet as I hope to go on–with good friends, good food, and a gallon of margaritas.

(cross-posted on Letters to My Father).

Crackin’ vs. Kracken

Hey Dad,
When the Clash of the Titans remake was released last year, I watched the previews and watched Liam Neeson bellow “release the Kracken” over and over. One day, while riding in the car with D, I paused mid-sentence and burst out “OH! KRAKEN, not CRACKIN’.” You used to say that over and over to us girls when we weren’t moving as quickly as you wanted us to, or when you wanted to motivate us to get started on a job and somehow–although I am familiar with the Kracken as sea creatures–it took me 29 years to realize that you were quoting a movie line. I wish I’d shared that story with you, because I think you would have really enjoyed hearing me try to verbalize what I thought it meant to “unleash the crackin’.” All I can say in my defense is that you didn’t always make sense, and it’s been years since I’ve heard you say it anyway.

Things; Part 1

Hey Dad,
In my head I keep making lists of things I always want to remember about you. The things that I feel made the world a better place because you were in it. The things I wish I’d told you I loved.

  1. You had an iron stomach when it came to food but the slightest hint of a shopping trip made you sick to your stomach. I remember more than one Christmas where you gave me cash and had me buy my own Christmas gifts so that you didn’t have to go shopping.
  2. You loved old country music and bluegrass; you were super excited to share Flatt and Scruggs with us.
  3. You were almost always home when we got home from school. I know that you really enjoyed the hard work of the farm, but it was amazing to not have to come home to an empty house or a string of baby sitters. (I’m thankful for Mom’s job enabling you to do that too.)
  4. You laughed a lot. You loved to pull practical jokes, like the night you coiled a dead garden snake in the fridge on top of the beer to freak Mom out. It did, and we thought it was the best fun.
  5. You let us girls braid your hair (what there was of it) and beard, and you frequently walked around with barrettes in both.
  6. You liked routine. When I was little, you came in from outside chores to watch The People’s Court with Judge Wapner almost every day. I remember standing on the porch so many nights yelling “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaddy, it’s Waaaaaaaaaaapner Time” to let you know it was time to come in.
  7. You’d wake us up in the morning in the summertime in the most irritating way you could come up with; by thundering up the stars singing “rise and shine and give god your glory, glory” at the top of your lungs.
  8. You carried your St. Michael’s medal in your wallet every day.
  9. You wore your clothes until they were threadbare. There was one particularly horrendous pair of cut off shorts that would just dangle strings down your legs  and eventually you’d cut the strings off and the shorts got shorter and shorter. You also wore a pair of pants to Wilson’s to get a pizza one night and it wasn’t until you were there that you realized that there was a rip in the seat. Which wouldn’t have mattered so much, except that your bare buttcheek was exposed to all who saw you.
  10. When we went grocery shopping with you after you and Mom split up, we’d frequently pick a “new weird fruit or vegetable” or “cheese we’ve never tried” to go home and try.
  11. You read a lot. You decided after just a couple of classes that college wasn’t for you, but you spent a great deal of time reading and educating yourself on anything that you found interesting that day. I’d like to think that I inherited this from you.
  12. You loved to dye easter eggs and took it very very seriously.
  13. You referred to perfumes and body lotions as “stinkums” and although you never really understood our desire for them, you’d brave places to buy them for us in scents that we told you we liked.
  14. When we were little and we’d go to get grain, you would sometimes let us pick out a treat. A soda or a candy bar and if one of us wasn’t with you, you would make sure that you brought something back as a surprise. I loved the feed store, you always had a list of what you needed and then we just had to wait for it to be brought out. I loved watching you heft the great 100 pound bags as though they weighed barely anything and remember thinking I had the strongest Dad in the whole world.
  15. You loved to tell stories. Growing up, half of your stories started with “I knew this guy–he’s dead/crazy/in jail now…” People loved to listen to you and you were charming and charismatic and people liked to talk to you.

This is an incomplete list, I figure I’ll just come back and add onto it as I think of things. You weren’t perfect Dad, but you were a lot of really great things and I love you and miss you so much.

Food and Memories

Dad, I have so many memories of you that are connected to foods. I bought a pork roast at the butcher the other day and brought it home and divided it into pieces, wrapping each piece in its own freezer paper coating. You would have yelled at me for wasting freezer paper and boggled over the fact that I had no masking tape. You’d have approved of my labeling though; pork shoulder, the weight and the date I was putting it in the freezer. You were such a stickler for that.

Right now I can’t bring myself to eat pancakes. You made pancakes for lunch for us so many times when we were children, in the same cast iron skillet with the same griddlecakes recipe. We used it so often that I’d copied it out onto a piece of paper and stuck it to the side of the fridge. And I spelled sugar wrong, with an e. And on the back of that piece of paper was a horrible sharpie bird that I had drawn. My favorite part was when you’d make a giant pancake for yourself with the last of the batter and dub it The Pancake that Ate Chicago. Or New York. Or maybe we called it that and you just humored us.

Today I took sausages from the butcher and squished them out of their casings. They were sweet italian sausages, one of the kinds you seemed to favor when I was a kid, all full of fennel and deliciousness. The feeling of the casing in my hand reminded me of standing next to you at the kitchen-aid, slowly feeding spiced ground pork into the slippery and damp natural casings. As squeamish as I was, natural casings have never bothered me, perhaps because of their distinct lack of blood or gook. Sometimes now we eat at restaurants and I lament the fact that you’ll never get to try them, indeed that you won’t ever spend time with me in Eugene now that I’ve lived here long enough to know where to take you for a great burrito like you wanted.


My father passed away unexpectedly on January 28, 2011. I keep writing him letters and blog posts in my head. It seemed like the only way to keep them from bouncing around there would be to write them down. That’s what this blog is for. To help me get through this and to help me remember.

You almost never answered my phone calls without a joke.

“Hey Dad, it’s me” I’d say, knowing you’d recognize my voice.
“Me who?”
“It’s Bonnie, Dad.”
“No, I’m Dad.”

“Dad!” At this point I’d huff and we’d be able to begin our conversation. Sometimes you made me clarify that I was your daughter, and not just your daughter, but your middle daughter. Even if the words were sometimes different, the pattern was always the same. Sometimes I’d answer your question with “your daughter” and you’d follow that with “which one?” You always knew it was me, but it didn’t matter. Life was just a little more fun for you if you could yank my chain a bit.

When the girls and I were kids, you reveled in tormenting us in little ways. You’d come down from the shower with your beard still wet–your beard was epic in the 1980s Dad, garnering comparisons to Grizzly Adams and Jerry Garcia–and stand over us and shake your head, sprinkling cold droplets on us while we shrieked. You’d drink a glass of milk and then perform your disgusting dribbling spit trick. You’d take off your stinky, horrible, sweaty socks at the end of a day out working in the field and throw them at us, hoping we’d be forced to take a big whiff of them. One night, when I struggled to stay awake, you took a magic marker and wrote “I am not asleep” in your neat block letters across the bottom of my foot. I didn’t wake up while you were doing it and you felt triumphant that you’d proved your point.

As exasperating as you could be, you teased us because it was one of the ways you told us you loved us. You weren’t a man who spent a lot of time with his heart on his sleeve; I can only remember you crying 2 or 3 times in my entire life. Sometimes you had no idea what to do with me, your super emotional middle child. But I’ve always known how much you loved me, how much you loved all three of us, and how thrilled you were that you were our Dad. I’ve never, not once, doubted how much you wanted us girls, how proud you were. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but I love you with a fierceness and in a way I know I’ll never love anyone else. Because you are my not just my father, you’re my Dad, and no one will ever fill this gap in my heart. I miss you.